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> Posted by Debashis Sarker, Centre for European Research in Microfinance (CERMi) and University of Mons, Belgium

With estimates indicating that less than 1 percent of microfinance clients around the world are persons with disabilities (PwDs), it’s clear that sizable barriers exist to the financial inclusion of this largely unbanked population segment. One such barrier is discrimination on the part of microfinance institutions. Two features of microfinance lending make it especially hard to reach definitive statistical estimates of discrimination. One is the complex stages of the microfinance lending process. The second is the self-reinforcing cycle of exclusion that results from the legacies of discriminating microcredit organizations.

A pilot project conducted in Uganda in partnership with the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Uganda (AMFIU) and the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) demonstrates the discrimination that often occurs in microfinance practices. The project worked with AMFIU microfinance institutions, applying interventions to combat practices discriminatory to PwDs. Along with addressing PwD exclusion by microfinance staff, the initiatives targeted exclusion by other microfinance clients, low self-esteem, product design, and informational and physical barriers. In two years, since the sensitization and accessibility efforts began, attitudes of MFI staff towards PwDs improved and, across eight queried MFI branches, there was an average 96 percent per MFI increase in clients with disabilities. Another study, also based in Uganda with AMFIU and NUDIPU, examined biases against PwDs across different MFI staff. Surveying eight MFIs between 2008 and 2009, staff were asked questions on aspects including risk of loan default among PwD clients. The responses of credit officers indicated they were more biased against PwDs than other MFI staff.

Given these findings, what measures can be taken to combat this?

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> Posted by Center Staff

A new paper from MasterCard corroborates recent findings on persistent gaps in the financial inclusion of women, indicating that in India 58 percent of women report difficulty accessing credit, savings, or jobs because of their gender. The paper is part of MasterCard’s Connectors Project, which examines the migration of excluded populations into progressive economic inclusion. The recently-released Global Findex data found that between 2011 and 2014, the gender gap in access to financial services remained steady at 9 percent in developing countries.

The reported difficulty faced by women in India was higher than that of the paper’s other surveyed countries: Indonesia, Egypt, and Mexico. Across all four countries, 33 percent of women expressed these challenges. Across all genders, in India, 67 percent of respondents reported worrying about money they owe to others and 82 percent worry about their future prospects. Along with women, ethnic and religious minorities in India reported additional challenges in economic participation. Fifty-eight percent said it was difficult to get jobs or credit because of their ethnicity or religion – compared with 28 percent across the surveyed countries. Whether or not these women and ethnic/religious minorities do in fact face discriminatory treatment, awareness of their perception is critical. In accessing banking services for the first time, or pursuing economic opportunities, trust and confidence can be a make-or-break.

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> Posted by Alison Slack, Associate, CFI

As CEO of the South Sudan Microfinance Development Facility, Elijah Chol is tasked with helping develop the financial inclusion sector in his fledgling country. Elijah is a member of the inaugural class of the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program, who begin their six-month fellowship in June in Cape Town, South Africa. We recently sat down with Elijah to learn more about his work in microfinance, and the governance challenges he faces.

South Sudan is a country striving to emerge from decades of crises on many fronts. “Post-conflict countries like ours have unique problems,” says Elijah. “One of the most pressing issues for us is that of education, especially in the villages and rural areas.” Because the education situation is so desperate, it is difficult to find board members with the skills necessary to effectively guide institutions.

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> Posted by Center Staff

In two weeks the first class of the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program will kick-off the fellowship in Cape Town, South Africa. The convening seminar marks the start of the inaugural fellowship, a six-month program aimed at strengthening the governance expertise of microfinance leaders in sub-Saharan Africa. The first class is composed of 31 board members and CEOs, coming from 13 institutions throughout 12 countries in Africa. Given the diversity of backgrounds and experience these fellows bring, in addition to our seasoned faculty, advisors, and subject expert staff, we are confident that the opportunities for peer learning and exchange will be plentiful in Cape Town, and throughout the fellowship. The profiles of our inaugural class of fellows are now available on the ABF website. Please join us in welcoming these fellows to the program!

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> Posted by Julia Arnold, Research Consultant

After two weeks of speaking with bank and microfinance institution staff, entrepreneurs, social investors, policymakers, and tech companies in India, my once clear understanding of how to build financial capability has now been completely scrambled. Building financial capability – that is, helping clients change (knowledge, skills, and ultimately behaviors) to make good financial choices – has taken on many layers of complexity and challenges in the context of, and in the face of, the realities of India’s poorest people.

But that is, of course, the fun of travel.

To briefly put India’s banking services in context – many villages in rural India still do not have a bank. According to the latest World Bank Findex data, half of rural Indians and nearly half of all Indians remain completely unbanked. Even if a bank exists in a village, social constraints often prohibit women from using it due to both limited mobility and lack of knowledge about and decision-making power over household finances. Basic access and usage of mobile phones remains limited. From my own earlier research with Cashpor Microcredit, I know that numeracy and literacy, as well as access, remain barriers for women to save with mobile technology.

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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of top picks features posts highlighting India’s financial inclusion progress and persisting gaps, how the deployment of digital financial systems requires strategic human capital management, and the state of the mobile money industry in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The proportion of adults in India with a bank account increased from 35 to 53 percent between 2011 and 2014, according to the recently-released Global Findex data. A new post on the IFMR LEAD blog shares the Findex findings for India, and outlines the ways in which financial inclusion in the country is still far from achieved. The post affirms that account ownership is just the first step towards inclusion, discussing account usage, gender disparity, and uptake of mobile services, among other topics.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The scale of the unmet financing needs of older adults around the world – and especially in lower and middle-income countries – is so significant that if unaddressed, it won’t just be each generation as it enters the later years that pays the price. It’ll be their families, healthcare systems, governments, and societies writ large, too. In India, for example, only 12 percent of the population has any sort of pension. A rapidly growing demographic, within 25 years, the percent of the world’s population over 60 will nearly double.

Recent progress does deserve mention. Just a few days ago, on the heels of last year’s launch of the Jan Dhan Yojana national financial inclusion strategy, India’s central government unveiled three new contributory social security schemes for pensions, life insurance, and disability insurance. Our hope is that these new programs are hugely successful and prove demonstrative for other countries to follow.

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> Posted by Center Staff

What are the most important questions that need to be researched in the financial inclusion arena?

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion will soon launch a fellows program to support research and thought leadership in financial inclusion – and we are calling on you to help! The purpose of this program will be to encourage independent researchers and analysts to examine some of the most important challenges in the financial inclusion arena. We plan to select a few priority research topics for fellows to examine.

Here’s where you come in. Below is a list of research topics that members of our Financial Inclusion 2020 team believe need answering. We’re checking in with you – our blog audience – to find out which topics you think are the most important to investigate. Please consider this list a starting point. Give us thumbs up or down on the topics listed, and propose topics of your own. Once we select the top priority questions, we will issue a call for proposals. Meanwhile, we offer this list to provoke a broader conversation about research needed in the financial inclusion field.

You can respond either in the comment block below, or by email to erhyne@accion.org.

Technology-related topics

  1. Impact of ubiquitous internet access on the business models for financial inclusion. By 2020, the vast majority of the world’s people will have access to internet through smart phones and tablets. Internet access could transform the way financial service providers and customers interact and facilitate a richer interface with customers. What scenarios are possible and are providers ready to respond?
  1. Under what conditions do “on-ramps” lead to deeper inclusion? With the World Bank’s commitment to Universal Financial Access focused on connecting people to transaction accounts, the next question is how (and whether) such connections lead to active account usage or access to additional products. What are the cases of successful access expansion that have led to deeper inclusion and why did they succeed?

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> Posted by Center Staff

What’s the current state of impact investing? It’s expanding and diversifying across sectors and geographies, and recent years have yielded better impact measurement practices, quality of investment opportunities, and support stakeholder involvement. Need more specifics? This week GIIN and J.P. Morgan released the results of their fifth annual impact investing survey, Eyes on the Horizon, offering data and industry insights on these and other areas.

The survey serves as an annual pulse-taking for the growing industry, consulting with investors around the world on their performance, as well as their perceptions on progress and what’s ahead. The 2015 survey tapped 146 impact investors – fund managers, banks, development finance institutions, foundations, and pension funds. Together the cohort committed $10.6 billion in impact investments in 2014, with plans to increase this figure by 16 percent in 2015. The 82 organizations that participated in the survey last and this year reported a 7 percent increase in capital committed between 2013 and 2014.

Along with previous survey topics, like types of investors and number and size of investments, this year’s assessment also covered loss protection, technical assistance, impact management and measurement, and exits.

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> Posted by IFMR LEAD

The following post was originally published on IFMR LEAD’s Development Outlook blog.

Picture yourself as a working-woman in rural Bihar. Lucky for you, at this time, it’s the three to four months in which you get a daily wage: harvesting season. Unlucky for you, as a Paswan, or Mahadalit, you got the short end of the bargain in land redistribution. Thus, work for you at this time means caring for someone else’s land, for a daily wage of 200 rupees. Your day starts at 5 a.m. with household chores: cooking, cleaning, and feeding the one or two livestock you own. Then you travel a short distance over to the 4-5 acre plot of land owned by one of the landowning families in your village.

According to our study’s ongoing results, in Bihar, 100 to 150 days of work is the most you’ll get as a female agriculture laborer throughout the year. If the family owns their own land, then the working woman acts as a kind of manager to the affairs of the land and the house. All women spend their days collecting cow dung and drying it in patties. When the money you are receiving is irregular, and most of your tasks are not income generating, what are the savings you have left by the end of the year?

“Nothing!” one respondent said to me in a village, when I asked. “We spend it all.”

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.
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